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Lapid demands criminal probe into PM’s German submarine deal

Yesh Atid leader says no one knew shipbuilder selling the vessels was represented by Netanyahu’s personal lawyer

Monday, Oct. 31, 2016 photo, Israeli Knesset member, Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party, spoke during an interview with The Associated Press, in his office at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
Monday, Oct. 31, 2016 photo, Israeli Knesset member, Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party, spoke during an interview with The Associated Press, in his office at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid called Saturday for Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to order a criminal investigation into a multi-billion shekel deal for Israel to purchase German submarines, which was pushed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and in which his personal lawyer David Shimron is alleged to have an interest.

Shimron, who has spent years defending Netanyahu against dozens of reports claiming malpractice and misuse of office for personal gain, is being accused of a serious conflict of interest due to his links to the German shipbuilder.

According to a report by Channel 10 on Tuesday night, Shimron serves as the representative of the German company, whose military submarines Netanyahu was pushing for Israel to buy against the wishes of the military and former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon.

Channel 10 said that neither Ya’alon, who was defense minister when the deal was first proposed, nor the IDF was in favor of purchasing three new submarines for the Israeli Navy as the decision did not fit with the Defense Ministry’s multi-year plan for the army.

“The attorney general should order a criminal investigation,” Lapid told Channel 2 television.

“None of us knew that the prime minister’s personal lawyer was involved in these deals,” Lapid said. “Why did the Germans hire Shimron?” Because of his knowledge? They hired him because he is the closest man to the prime minister and then a situation evolves in which we are negotiating with the Germans and the Germans know the lawyer is working for them — and we don’t know.”

Added Lapid, whose centrist party sits in the opposition: “The attorney general should order a criminal investigation to understand why the Germans hired Shimron and how much they paid him.”

Former prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak, who has become a relentless critic of Netanyahu, also called Saturday for a thorough investigation into the sale.

Former Israeli prime minister and Defense minster Ehud Barak speaks during a launching event of the Reporty App in Tel Aviv, March 16, 2016. (Photo by Flash90)
Former Israeli prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak speaks during a launching event of the Reporty App in Tel Aviv, March 16, 2016. (Photo by Flash90)

“Submarines are crucial but the trust of the public is even more important,” Barak wrote on Twitter. “There are many unanswered questions in this case. That is why it is crucial, as Bogie [Ya’alon] stated, that we investigate this issue. Both in Germany and behind the scenes.”

Last week, Yaalon urged a “thorough probe by the relevant authorities” into the “very disturbing” allegations made in the Channel 10 report, while on Saturday opposition lawmaker Michal Rozin also urged the Knesset to review the case.

 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aboard the new submarine 'Rahav' at the Israeli navy base in Haifa, on January 12, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aboard the new submarine ‘Rahav’ at the Israeli navy base in Haifa, on January 12, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Netanyahu announced in a cabinet meeting last month that Israel was in the process of negotiating the purchase of three new submarines for the Israeli Navy, which currently maintains a fleet of five underwater vessels, with another slated to be delivered in coming years.

The new submarines — valued at around NIS 6 billion ($1.5 billion) — were intended as replacements for the military’s older models.

Netanyahu denied on Thursday that he had any prior knowledge of Shimron being involved in the deal. Netanyahu said that he first learned of Shimron’s involvement when Channel 10 asked for his response before airing the report on Tuesday.

“Shimron never brought up submarines or ships or any other issue concerning his clients with the prime minister,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement, adding that Shimron had not discussed the German client or any other client with Netanyahu. The PMO said that members of Netanyahu’s inner circles, including Shimron, “know not to discuss their [personal] business dealings with the prime minister.”

“The only consideration the prime minister had [in mulling the German deal] was strengthening Israel’s capabilities in regard to [obtaining] strategic vessels, essential to ensure [Israel’s] future,” the PMO said.

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